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MET 401 / ECET 430 Capstone Research Guide: Evaluating Resources

Dr. Frederick Berry & Dr. Phil Sanger

Evaluating Sources

Is it Trustworthy?

Authority  

  • Who is the author/creator of the information? Is he/she the original author/creator? Is the person qualified?  What are his/her credentials?  What is his/her occupation?

Accuracy  

  • Is the information accurate?  How does it compare with other sources on the subject?  Is it consistent with what else you know about the subject? Does it provide enough evidence to support its claim or position?

Objectivity  

  • Does the source present a balanced view of the different perspectives on the topic? Is the bias of the author/creator obvious? Is the source trying to convince you of a point of view? Is the website or publication in which the item appears sponsored, or endorsed by a political or other special interest group? 

Date of Publication 

  • How important is currency to your topic? Is this research still relevant? Does it report facts from the actual time of the event or issue? Is it retrospective, providing some review or analysis of previous research? 

Scope / Depth / Breadth 

  • Is the source comprehensive for the entire field of study, presenting multiple viewpoints? Is it specialized, focusing on only certain aspects? Is it ethnocentric, reflecting the values or beliefs of a certain group? 

Intended Audience / Level of Information 

  • Who is the intended audience: the general public, the educated layperson, professionals, practitioners, scholars? Is it written at a level that is understandable and makes sense to you?  Consider the vocabulary used. Does it build on what you already know? Does it include a bibliography or links to additional sources to consult? 

Quality of Publication 

  • Do you know anything about the publisher of the source? Is it published, sponsored, or endorsed by a professional association, organization, or society? 

Ease of Use / Special Features 

  • Does the source contain a table of contents and/or an index to facilitate use and find the specific information you need? Is it well-organized? Does it include a bibliography? Does it contain graphs, tables, charts, illustrations, photographs, maps, or other special features that add to its usefulness? 

(Courtesy of Jeremy Garritano)

Information Decision Matrix

When making design decisions, you need to evaluate the quality of information and its importance to the project.  Two facets of the information that can be evaluated are its trustworthiness and relevance.  Trustworthiness include the analyzing the source, audience-level, currency, i.e., the categories in the left column.  Relevance relates to the appropriateness of the data to the actual project under consideration, as described in the right hand column.trustworthiness relevance image

Using Information to Make Decisions

Once you've found appropriately trustworthy and relevant information for your project, you can feed that information into decision-making structures such as a Pugh Analysis or Weighted Decision Matrix

When inputting data into those tools, you can see where information gaps exist.  For example, you may have operating cost data for one solution but not another. 

When identifying information gaps, you need to determine whether that information would make a difference to the final decision or if it is crucial to the decision making (for example, whether it would affect the final decision you make if the entry for that facet changed in your analysis).  In the former case, you would probably not bother to locate the information gap, while in the latter, you would want to verify the quality of the information you used in the analysis.

Determining Relevance

How Appropriate is this for My Project?

Does technical information exist, or just general, non-specific information?

Has the technology actually been tested or implemented, or is it still experimental?

Has the technology been used in a similar environment?

Does the technology address the needs of clients/stakeholders?

Does the source discuss negative potential impacts of the technology as well as the advantages?

Page Source

This page is courtesy of Prof. Michael Fosmire, as part of the Information-Rich Engineering Design guide